A sketch in nine stations
It’s Friday and the platform is quieter than earlier in the week. Everyone looks tired. The energy of Monday is replaced with the anticipation of rest, of a few hours to come where we can relax and forget that we do this each day. I stand in the same place each day, knowing the door of the train will stop in front of me. I walk to the same seat, and look out of the same window at the same view. The journey takes 27 minutes to travel the nine miles and nine stations on a normal day, although on this line not many days are considered normal.
Once sat comfortably I pull down the small shelf in front of me and place my iPad and Pencil on it, then retrieve my glasses from my bag and clean them meticulously, even if they don’t seem to need it. The ritual helps me focus.
The train pulls slowly out of the station and begins its journey to London Bridge.
I can still see the tower on the hill slowly moving away from me, and I feel reassured. The weeds grow high and proud here, we’re not far from home. It’s calm and a little empty, in a good way. We’re not in London proper yet.
By now I have decided what I’m going to sketch and have done a small amount of image research, if needed.
I sit in the last carriage so I never see the platform here, just the overgrown cutting. Its middle class reputation contrasts the rather grubby station. Penge is close to where we live, but I rarely feel the need to visit.
I make the first tentative marks on the canvas, warming up, testing and trying. My confidence grows slowly with each mark. Some are making sense now, and I can see ahead.
The bright red brick always gets my attention. A wall of browns, reds, ochres, purples, painted at different times to cover different messages. It’s so close to the window I could reach out and touch it. It reeks of Victorian decay, the kind I love. I remind myself that I should explore further.
The initial form is there, and my marks are now faster and more fluid. I see less around me and my focus builds, the marks almost make themselves now.
The first larger crowds of the journey and the first signs that we’re approaching central London. It feels different. Forest Hill is a riot of graffiti and apartment blocks, constantly busy, back and forth.
As the train pulls into the station I pause and look long at the sketch. The lines have come together and formed something which resembles a loose image in my mind.
Honor Oak Park
The meadow, my favourite view of the journey. Unbroken to the horizon, natural and calming. It feels as though we’re looking at a platform in a small village station. The meadow is not very long, but it’s a welcome intervention. I long for it to last longer.
My head is down and my focus is clear. The beginnings are there but it needs work, it needs thought. It needs love. I refocus and rework some of the marks, careful not to overwork the sketch. It’s not easy, it’s in my nature to overwork my sketches and I must constantly fight it.
We’re in London now, and the trees and shrubs are thin on the ground. A large wall made of sleepers, painted ochre and reminiscent of the coal sheds of my childhood. Striking and curious. I wonder what might live behind its solid facade.
The sleepers remind me that my sketch needs form. That lines are not enough for what I want, and I need to see it from another perspective. I take another long look at it and start to work in some form. I see the shadows and the curves, the textures and the little flashes of light.
New Cross Gate
The storm before the calm, a big dull station where everyone is going somewhere else. Concrete and brick dominate, but not in an interesting way. You can feel and smell the fumes of a busy interchange, the trains and cars flying past in a constant blur.
I feel the pressure of knowing that my journey is almost ended. I could finish the sketch later but I prefer to contain it in this journey. It needs to end as well. I carry on with renewed vigour, bringing form and texture to the flurry of lines.
The end, and also the beginning. A chance to catch my breath before descending into the furnace of the Underground. London Bridge is a station in constant flux. Blink and you’ll miss it change again. I funnel my way to the escalators and poor myself into them.
As we pull into the station I take a last look at the sketch. As the driver thanks us for this short journey I carefully put away my iPad and Pencil, and fold my glasses into their case. Everything returns to my bag and it is hoisted onto my shoulders to be carried across central London, not to be seen again until the evening. The wait gives me pause, time to imagine what I might draw in tomorrow’s 27 minutes.